After a difficult first two years, the University of Calgary women's rugby team has burst out of the gates, winning its first two games of the season.Their first wins as a varsity team came after a troubled start to the program, which saw the tragic death of program founder Jenny Vincent in 2010.
The three-year-old team started their run of success on a two-game tour of B.C. First playing the University of British Columbia, the girls won their first ever victory with a strong 34-10 win. This was a relief for many Dinos who've been involved with the program since its inception.
"All of us were really happy-- some were dancing on the field," said team captain and scrum-half Elizabeth Mackinnon. "It was really great."
This was quickly followed by a 31-15 win over the University of Victoria, placing the girls second in Canada West before their game against the league powerhouse, the first-place University of Lethbridge.
"We've already gotten more than we could have asked for last year, and were hoping to take it to U of L," said Mackinnon.
Leading the team for a second year, head coach Simon Chi stressed that development was the team's main goal. By promoting positive values, athletes are taught proactive skills necessary to make a positive impact on and off the field. From here, Chi hopes strong character will emerge, essential to the program's success and for the athletes themselves.
"We want them to be well-rounded individuals. When they leave here, we want them to have good character, good work ethic and to be able to balance their time. We're not looking for one-dimensional jocks," said Chi.
The girls are expected to take their athletic development seriously. Fitness training is routine, and the team has taken a number of approaches aimed at developing player performance and team cohesion. Filming games has been an essential aspect, one that Chi said helps the players learn, while creating a culture of accountability.
"Right after the games we're processing the video, putting it on a flash drive and giving it out. The girls are usually keen to see it," he said.
The team's frequent travel presents unique challenges, forcing athletes into a balancing act between school work and the team. Number eight Jovita Byzitter faces a season balancing rugby with fourth-year neuroscience and efforts to attain the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.
"With rugby, I've also got school and I'm applying for med school at the University of Alberta, so I'm keeping busy," said Byzitter.
With a tough season ahead, the girls have their eye on the Canada West playoffs, hosted this year in Calgary from October 21-23. The team expressed excitement at the chance to showcase their newfound success on home turf. Byzitter seemed hopeful for the team's chances in playoffs and said they have a refreshed spirit.
"Everyone's so excited. The rookies we have this year are amazing and all the vets are stepping up. It's a whole different dynamic than last year."
Whether they win or lose, 2011 has already shaped up to be a memorable year for the program, perhaps setting a foundation for future success.